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NBCC's "Best Recommended"

This morning, the National Book Critics Circle unveiled its Best Recommended list, a monthly list consisting of five works of fiction, of nonfiction, and of poetry, ranked according to votes by NBCC members.

John Freeman e-mailed me about this yesterday, and it’s a really intriguing idea. To come up with this list, the NBCC polled its more than 800 members, asking them to vote for the best book they’ve read from 2007 or early 2008 in each of the three categories. With people like John Updike, Robert Haas, Mary Gaitskill, James Marcus, and Jonathan Lethem, this is almost like the ESPN Coaches Poll, but for books instead of college basketball teams.

The project also has a similar goal to the Booksense lists, which are a monthly list of twenty titles as recommended by booksellers.

In terms of the inaugural NBCC list, there are two translations of note that are included: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson and Collected Poems: 1956-1998 by Zbigniew Herbert.

That’s not bad, considering that for fiction, there were only five books in translation on the “longlist.” In addition to Petterson’s book, the longlist included:

Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girl
Robert Walser’s The Assistant
Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace
Roberto Bolano’s Savage Detectives

To be a bit critical for a moment, these are pretty safe selections . . . All by well known authors, books that received a lot of attention when they first came out, etc. This fact isn’t all that surprising, but it makes me a bit wary. One of the criticisms I’ve had of the Booksense lists over the years is how often it tends to mimic the display tables at Barnes & Noble, when it could—and I would argue that it should—serve as a guide to great books that maybe aren’t getting the same amount of co-op and marketing money thrown at them.

In theory, reviewers and booksellers should know more about what’s coming out than anyone else, and outlets like the Best Recommened and Booksense lists afford both groups an opportunity to promote a book they’re truly passionate about that isn’t one of the 7-8 titles that everyone in the world seems to be reading and talking about. (Like Junot Diaz and Denis Johnson, who top the Best Recommended list.)

Still, I think this is a great service and could develop into a very valuable resource for readers over the coming months.



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